Chris Burden


Boston, usa, 1946; lives in Topanga, usa

Chris Burden is a central figure of a generation of antiauthoritarian artists who in the late 1960s and early 1970s saw museums and other art institutions as representatives of “the establishment.” Land art, conceptual art and performance art emerged as alternative propositions aligned in spirit to social movements such as the equal rights movement and antiwar student rebellions that challenged the status quo. While he is today best known for his large-scale sculptures and technically challenging installations, when graduating from the University of California in 1971 Burden developed a body of works driven by the idea that the truly meaningful and lasting art in the future would not any longer be based on objects, no longer being commodity which one could easily collect and hang on a wall. He was along with many of his colleagues convinced that art should instead be ephemeral and politically engaged.

Burden took at the time with a series of performances this new understanding of art to a new extreme by transforming his body into object and support of the artwork. Undertaking shockingly simple actions, Burden’s works disturbed the conventions of the art world and of society very directly. In Shoot, 1971, he asked a friend to shoot him into his arm with a revolver in front of an audience inside a gallery space. And in Five Day Locker Piece, 1971, he had himself locked into a regular university locker for five consecutive days, whereas in Doorway to Heaven, 1973, he was electrocuted and cut in Through the Night Softly (1973). Deluxe Photo Book 1971–73 is nothing more than a photo album with images and texts documenting these and other twenty performances. This document constitutes a valuable archive, through which these ephemeral works survive in a both simple and profound way.

Jochen Volz